So A quick update for the Big USA vs England game Wednesday Night at 7 pm on ESPN News for the She Believes Trophy and Champions League & Europa Reminders for Tuesday, Wed, Thursday on Fox Sports. Will be interesting to see England and new manager Man United great Phil Neville vs the US and Jill Ellis. Both teams tied their last games – so this game will be a winner take all for the She Believes Cup Trophy! Champions League has PSG at home without Neymar trying to come from 2 goals down vs the Defending Champs Real Madrid. Don’t see it happening Real 2-1 today. In the other big game this week its Tottenham and leading scorer Harry Kane at home up 2-2 on 2nd place finishers from a year ago – Juventus. Tottenham’s 2 Away goals gives them the edge – as Juve will need 2 away goals to make it close on Wednesday on Fox Sport . See the full schedule below. And Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com for all the game updates and schedules.
Tues, Mar 6 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 PSG 1 vs Real Madrid 3
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Liverpool 5 vs Porto 0
Weds, Mar 7 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS2 Man City vs Basel
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Tottenham 2e vs Juventus 2
7 pm ESPN News US Ladies vs England Ladies (She Believes Cup Championship)
Thurs, Mar 8 – Europa League
1 pm FS 2 Milan vs Arsenal
1 pm Fox Soccer Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Salburg
1 pm eSPN3 Atletic Madrid vs Moskva
3 pm FS2 RB Leipeg vs Zenit
3 pm Fox Soccer Marseille vs Athletic Club
Preview USA vs England for She Believes Title stars and stripes
After Setback US trying to Live in the Moment – Graham Hayes eSPNW
3 things we Learned USA vs France 1-1 tie
US Manages a Tie with France 1-1 – S&S
Video Highlights –Included US GK Nueur’s Saves
England Draws Germany sets up Title Game with US
How the US Misses Hispanic Players – Stars and Stripes
PSG sans Neymar sets out to comeback on Real Madrid
PSG 1 vs Real Madrid 3 – Preview
Porto playing for Pride down 5-0 at Liverpool
Reds must Take Prevssure off Salah – James Milner – ESPNF
Juve’s Mandzukic out for Tottenham game
Who should start for Tottenham vs Juve Wed?
Arsenal needs to Recover and use old Blueprint to beat Milan
Bob Bradley Wishes Swansea Never Offered him the Job
USA vs England, SheBelieves: preview, Wed 7 pm ESPN News
Wednesday, March 7 – 7 PM ET Live on ESPNews Streaming on WatchESPN
It’s winner-take-all in the final match of the tournamentBy Charles Olney@olneyce Mar 6, 2018, 6:00am PST
The US and England both sit on four points after two games, with England leading thanks to their superior goal difference. That advantage means that the US will need to win if they want to take first place. This is ‘just’ a friendly tournament, and who takes home the title isn’t of world shaking importance. Still, both of these teams will be very motivated. For England, a victory here would go a long way to shoring up doubts after a rocky period that saw conflict in the ranks, the firing of Mark Sampson, and the controversial appointment of Phil Neville. For the US, failure here would mark three consecutive tournaments on home soil that the US failed to win. That wouldn’t be a crisis exactly, but it would be worrisome.
- The central midfield. The US has persisted with their now-standard 4-3-3, but found very little joy in the middle of the pitch so far in the tournament, getting overwhelmed by superior numbers from the opposition. Will Ellis respond to those difficulties with a formation tweak? Will they adjust by moving more quickly up and down the wings? If England mirrors the US setup, we may be in for a fast and loose game filled with direct balls, crunching challenges, and a lot of running.
- The American backline. The US has only conceded one goal in two games so far, but has yet to look particularly sharp in the center of defense. Tierna Davidson has been solid, but Abby Dahlkemper has been shaky, and both have had some difficulties choosing when to come out and when to hang back. England has scored six goals in two games, many of them coming on lethal direct play. If the US tries to press high, they could end up very exposed to the likes of Ellen White, Jodie Taylor, and Toni Duggan.
- The fullbacks. Against Germany, England stayed very compact, conceding the wide spaces and counting on their banks of four to lock down the center of the pitch. That mostly worked, but partly because Germany doesn’t have any great crossers, and also lacks truly lethal fullbacks that could overload the wings and make them pay. If England sets up similarly against the US, expect the US fullbacks to push very high, and look for crosses to rain down from players like Rapinoe and O’Hara. If England instead defends wider, the US will need to adjust and use their fullbacks to drag play wide, creating space for the wide attackers to drift inward into the opened pockets of space.
The US made just two changes from the first to second match. Will we see a third run-out of this same basic XI? Or will Ellis bring in some new faces? Either is possible, but continuity is probably the safer bet. It will be interesting to see whether Ellis gives Taylor Smith another chance after bringing her off in an early tactical substitution against France. Will we see a third straight match with Dahlkemper and Davidson together, or will Sonnett get a start? It will also be worth paying attention to the front three. Will players like Christen Press, Lynn Williams, and Crystal Dunn get a look, or is Ellis firmly committed to the trio of Rapinoe, Morgan, and Pugh? In the midfield, options are somewhat limited. Morgan Brian is still in
recovery, and seems likely to return to the bench after a full 90 against France. Is Julie Ertz’s minor injury minor enough to let her return? Will Allie Long get another look?
SheBelieves, USA vs France: three things we learned
he kids are mostly all right but need more experienceBy Stephanie Yang@thrace Mar 5, 2018, 2:30pm PST
After France kind of – how do you say – lost terribly to England, USA fans might have thought they’d get their own shot at racking up a demoralizing score against a top-rated WNT. Through a combination of France pulling it together and the United States not really knowing how to do what it wants in midfield, that scoreline never came to pass. Instead the French held stoutly to a 1-1 tie and even started to take it to the US as time ticked down. So how can the USWNT adjust before they face England, who aren’t going to be any easier to deal with than France?
It might be time to give Emily Sonnett a proper run out
In the lead up to SheBelieves, there were a lot of questions about how the back line would function without Becky Sauerbrunn combined with assumptions that it would be Abby Dahlkmeper who would guide that functioning. Dahlkemper held things together against Germany, but then looked unsteady against France. Meanwhile, Emily Sonnett is sitting there completely available as a center back. Tierna Davidson has proven that she is clearly ready to start working her way into regular lineups and it wouldn’t be as big of a risk as you think to pair her off with Sonnett, who has been working her butt off not just for Portland but in Australia as well for Sydney FC. Davidson has made mistakes, but what else do you expect from a 19-year-old who now has a grand total of three caps?
The link between goalkeepr and CB’s needs consistency, that’s true. But it’s important to be able to rotate your center backs too instead of having to rely on one pairing for 90 minutes several games in a row under tournament conditions. And shifting Julie Ertz ack to CB in an emergency does not count as depth anymore, not when she’s proven how much better and more vital she is as a DM.
Ellis may need to stop relying on her fullbacks so much
It was somewhat apparent against Germany and very much apparent against France that Ellis is still, in some fashion, using a three-back formation to try and keep numbers in the midfield. Against France in particular she dropped Andi Sullivan between her CB’s and asked Kelley O’Hara and Taylor Smith to push up so the team could attack in a 3-4-3, using Sullivan to set up play out of the back. But O’Hara eventually got gassed (and seemed to still be carrying a bit of whatever had her signal to be subbed off against Germany) and Smith just wasn’t able to handle Le Sommer, which pretty much canceled out Ellis’ plans to use her fullbacks to supplement midfield width for the high press.Ellis also admitted at the press conference after the game that she left Smith in too long, which is why she made that strange 43’ sub for Smith with Casey Short. But Short also had to sub out after she landed badly on her ankle, which has moved Sofia Huerta up as next in line on the depth chart on this roster if O’Hara is going to get any rest at all. (Or, well, there’s also Crystal Dunn, who got slotted in at left back in an emergency, but can we please not be relying on that as any kind of long-term strategy?)Huerta does need more time in her new position – how can Ellis really convert her to a FB if she never gets to play there? – but even completely fresh off the bench, a Huerta who’s still learning the ropes won’t be the single key to unlocking England. That brings us to the midfield.
The midfield needs to wake up
Defensively, Morgan Brian and Andi Sullivan were okay, although it was clear this team was missing Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis. Brian and Sullivan certainly worked hard, although they didn’t always work smart. The same goes for Lindsey Horan and Savannah McCaskill. But no one was really able to break out of the midfield; it was all kind of a same-y mash of attempts at possession that ran into dead ends. (Get well soon, Rose Lavelle, this midfield needs you.) McCaskill at least was kind of interesting in some of her attempts to break that French back line and it’s clear that Ellis wants to find a position for her on this team, although at the post-game conference she said that McCaskill got shifted into midfield because there’s currently a lot of competition for that nine spot.If McCaskill can make the adjustment into a fast-paced attacking mid who shuttles the ball forward well, that might be the kind of flavor that helps open up space for Alex Morgan and Mal Pugh. It’s kind of an exciting time for the midfield, with Brian healthy again and Ertz back in her most natural position, plus Tobin Heath waiting in the wings while she rehabs and kids like Sullivan and McCaskill trying to figure out their places. And if USSF can not mess up Rose Lavelle’s recovery this time – well! Watch out world.In the meantime, let’s hope that Ellis figures out some kind of rotation to keep her players rested and healthy through the end of SheBelieves. Winning a friendly tournament is nice; not being out for most of your club season because of an exhaustion-related injury is even better.
After setback in draw with France, USWNT trying to live for the moment
By Graham Hays | Mar 4, 20180Mallory Pugh puts the United States ahead in its second SheBelieves Cup match, but Eugenie Le Sommer assures France earns a share of the points at Red Bull Arena.NEXT VIDEO
HARRISON, N.J. — It was easy enough to see and hear how disappointed the United States was with a 1-1 draw against France on Sunday afternoon. The language, be it of the body or spoken variety, offered no search for silver linings in a game that began under a bright blue sky.The disappointment wasn’t because the Americans weren’t good enough to beat France, listless in a comprehensive defeat against England three days earlier. It wasn’t that entirely, at least. There was the competitor’s desire to win any game, of course, especially one against a team with similar aspirations of global soccer supremacy. But beating France on a chilly afternoon in the SheBelieves Cup in March isn’t the main motivation that drives this team any more than it was the main motivation for more than 25,000 fans to bundle up and make their way to Red Bull Arena.What the team wants, and what stokes its substantial following, was on display at halftime. That was when the U.S. women’s hockey team took the field, gold medals around each player’s neck after success in the Winter Olympics. What matters is that one moment, be it Olympics or World Cup, when the whole world pays attention.The soccer team didn’t look ready for that moment.”Just pretty bad all around,” Megan Rapinoe said. “For where we are, and where we want to be going and really the progression we should be making, it was not good enough. It was bad.”Still to learn is if Sunday was the price to pay to be ready for that moment in 2019.For the first time in nearly a year, Morgan Brian started for the U.S. and played 90 minutes. And for only the seventh time, rarely before against a team of France’s caliber, Andi Sullivan started.Two of the most technically adept midfielders available to U.S. coach Jill Ellis, two celebrated NCAA stars whose rise to the national team bordered on meteoric, they were two-thirds of a midfield that struggled Sunday to connect the lines and generate much energy or attack.To be sure, the midfield was far from Sunday’s only culprit. But it earned its share of culpability.”Overall it was too many turnovers at times,” Ellis said. “I think when we got into good positions, we were able to play through them. And then at times the decision-making and the touch was sometimes off. They’re players with good brains, both of them, and we look to get better.”That the women’s national team had its moment in the 2015 World Cup had more than a little to do with Brian. Barely out of college, she stepped into a starting role midway through that event and ably filled a role that helped free Carli Lloyd to move forward and pile up the goals that the U.S. needed to get through the knockout round and win its first title since 1999.If there was a sure thing at the time, it was Brian’s place in the national team’s starting lineup for the next decade. Instead, injuries slowed her in the months since, never catastrophic but the kind of accumulating misery — hamstrings and groins — that can wear away even a world-class athlete’s confidence. While French giant Lyon made clear what it thought of her when it signed her to a multiyear contract this winter, it was a frustrating year for her that ended Sunday.But that year in purgatory did end. That alone made Sunday worthwhile.”It was a 1-1 tie, so I think at the end of the day it was a frustrating performance for us,” Brian said. “But obviously personally, I’m really happy to play 90 minutes. It’s been a really long last year for me, so I’m glad I could help the team that way. I think it’s just about progressing from here.”
There were moments when it looked right Sunday. Mallory Pugh put the U.S. ahead 1-0 in the 35th minute when she kept her balance and composure on a goalmouth scramble that followed a Rapinoe free kick, but the sequence that led to the free kick began with Brian pinging a pass across the field to Kelley O’Hara on the left flank. But other times, too often, both Brian and Sullivan labored on the ball or appeared indecisive in building the attack.Brian looked rusty, Sullivan looked young. Perhaps that should have been expected.”It’s been a long time for me since I played an international game 90 minutes,” Brian said. “It’s just going to be about getting back into things. Physically, I think I’m getting better. It’s about getting game minutes and that experience back. And I think it will come quick, it’s just once you come back from something it’s about getting that 90 minutes under your belt.”France’s Eugenie Le Sommer leveled the score just three minutes after Pugh’s goal. As U.S. players made their way back to midfield for the restart, Alex Morgan could be seen trying to communicate something to both Brian and Sullivan. She wasn’t the only one. The front line, particularly Morgan and Rapinoe, were starved for touches much of the game.
“It just needs to be a little bit crisper in terms of getting themselves open and kind of that push and pull,” Rapinoe said. “Speed through the midfield — not necessarily that we have to play 100 miles an hour, but you’ve got to think pretty quickly. And making sure that we’re doing things to set up other things. Obviously, if we’re going up one side, we’re not really trying to go up that side — we’re trying to get out to the other side and break pressure.”I think, for me, it’s probably more of the intellectual part of the game, thinking quickly in the tactical thinking part of the game. When you don’t think quickly, when you leave yourself having to make decisions under pressure, your technical mistakes are going to increase.”It isn’t difficult to work out a depth chart on the other U.S. lines. There is ample depth at forward, but some combination of Tobin Heath, Morgan, Pugh and Rapinoe are who Ellis would surely like to occupy the three starting spots in a big game. Likewise, while Tierna Davidson continues making her case for minutes somewhere on the back line, it appears in stable shape with Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn, when the co-captain is healthy, in the middle with O’Hara and one of Casey Short, Taylor Smith or perhaps even Davidson on the outside.Alyssa Naeher, who made two crucial saves to preserve the draw, is the No. 1 goalkeeper.
The midfield is the question mark, not because of a lack of options but because the depth chart is so difficult to read and the variations so distinctly different. Sullivan offers a completely different style in the No. 6 role than Julie Ertz, who sat out Sunday with what was described as essentially physical wear and tear. Brian is a different player in the No. 8 role than Samantha Mewis, who emerged as a mainstay in Brian’s absence last year but is out of this tournament because of an injury. And each offers something different alongside Lloyd, the other midfield puzzle piece.
“Today there were spurts where it was some really good play through our midfield, and then at times it sputtered,” Ellis said. “It was decisions and reactions and how we open up the spaces. I think Andi showed, at times, a young player and then an older player, in terms of some of the things she did. At this point in a player’s career … these are the type of game she needs in terms of playing against these big teams.”
So, too, Brian, no matter her World Cup experience. She did not attend the team’s extended January training camp in California, Ellis agreeing it was best for her to remain with Lyon, which she had just joined, and work her way back into playing form in France. Perhaps the most talent-rich club in women’s soccer, it was the best place for her to be in order for her and the U.S. to have the best chance of being in Lyon next summer for the World Cup final.”I think she’s going to, not just get back to where she was, but hopefully beyond that with her growth,” Ellis said at the time. “I’m very optimistic for her.”Optimism in any form was in short supply Sunday as the U.S. prepared to leave for Orlando, Florida, and its final game in the tournament against England. But this wasn’t the moment that matters. To get those, you sometimes suffer these.Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.
SheBelieves: USA just about manages 1-1 tie with France
Underwhelming player performances and tired legs.By Stephanie Yang@thrace Mar 4, 2018, 12:11pm PST
Starting XI: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 22-Taylor Smith, 17-Tierna Davidson, 7-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Kelley O’Hara; 3-Andi Sullivan, 6-Morgan Brian, 9-Lindsey Horan, 11-Mallory Pugh, 13-Alex Morgan (capt.), 15-Megan Rapinoe
The two big questions leading into this game were: 1) would Jill Ellis rotate her roster after a game in the most exhausting conditions possible against Germany and 2) would France pull it together after a disastrous outing against England.
The answer to #1 came quickly enough as Ellis only changed up two players from that slog against Germany, starting Andi Sullivan and Morgan Brian in the midfield over Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd. For the rest, they had to make do with two days’ rest, although surely more of them could have sat based on a scouting report of France’s last game. Which is not necessarily a slam on France – it’s clear they’re trying to update their squad, and there’s something to be said for throwing a half-vet/half-inexperienced squad into a tournament against England, the United States, and Germany. And to answer #2, France came out of the gate with a noticeably stiffer spine than against England, staying fairly disciplined under pressure from the United States.The WNT started the first half offering okay pressure in the midfield, Sullivan and Brian particularly doing their best to cancel out Amandine Henry and Gaetane Thiney. But curiously enough the US did not look to space as much as they should have; despite great early switches to Mal Pugh, she then often lingered by her lonesome in pockets of space as the US recycled methodically out of the back through Andi Sullivan, who dropped between CB’s. In fact one of the best early opportunities came in the 7’ when Pugh got a nice ball, cut inside to leave space for an overlapping Taylor Smith, and Smith put in a centering ball for Alex Morgan that was not far off from becoming an assist. But Brian’s midfield pressure gradually dropped over the course of the half, fading out and becoming a liability later on in the game.Sullivan eventually began stepping up more, teaming up with Brian and Horan to offer more midfield pressure. But it was a free kick that ultimately broke the deadlock as Kelley O’Hara was fouled just outside the 18-yard box, setting up Megan Rapinoe to put in a deceptively simple ball right in front of goal. The ball pinged around and came out to Pugh, who was able to finish her rebound and make it 1-0 in the 35’.But France quickly erased the lead as they were given too much time in midfield to set up and put the ball in for Eugenie Le Sommer, who beat Dahlkemper, then Naeher as she came off her line. Le Sommer sliced the ball into the side netting at an angle to make it 1-1 in the 39’.Ellis made a slightly odd sub in the 43’ as Casey Short came in for Taylor Smith. With only minutes left, it could be that Smith signaled to the bench she needed to come out; O’Hara switched over to the right and Short went in left. The teams finished the half at 1-1.There were two subs to start the second half, Savannah McCaskill in for Horan and Lynn Williams in for Rapinoe. Pugh switched to the left of the front line and McCaskill took up more of a central playmaker position, drifting inside to try to help break the French back line. She brought a bit of tough liveliness to the midfield, but not in a consistently effective way, and it was interesting that Ellis continues to try McCaskill at midfield when she’s spent her career until now as a forward.
The United States continued to search for ways to break into the French defensive third as the half went on but there wasn’t enough pressure and organization from midfield and the few searching balls into space just weren’t hitting their targets. Alex Morgan put in a lot of effort trying to contain play in her area and set up her fellow forwards, but she could only do so much before she was swarmed by French defenders.Crystal Dunn and Carli Lloyd came on for Mal Pugh and Andi Sullivan in the 73’, but almost immediately the team was forced to adapt on the fly as Casey Short landed badly on her ankle from a header challenge and had to be stretchered off. Dunn shifted to left back and Christen Press came on for Short to complete the front line with Morgan and Williams.
The last 15 minutes of the game were a bit of a mess. Alyssa Naeher brought two giant point-blank saves in the 82’ and 83’ to keep it level as France clearly scented blood in the water and searched for a game winner.Meanwhile, the US midfield, now with Brian dropped in front of the defense and McCaskill and Lloyd drifting under the forwards, were unable to help break down France’s defense. It didn’t help that Kelley O’Hara looked exhausted well before final whistle, which put a damper on their original plan of width through engaging the fullbacks. But that was also a problem for a lot of the game, and Horan and Brian also slacked off in midfield.In the end, the whistle blew for full time with the teams tied at 1-1, the United States weathering a last couple of punches from France to finish things out.“At some point we ran out of legs,” said head coach Jill Ellis in a press conference after the game. On her thinking in keeping most of the same starting XI after only two days’ rest after playing Germany in grueling conditions, she said, “The reality is I think I’m trying to build some continuity. I knew [Julie Ertz] wasn’t going to be available for us, so having to look at someone else in the six, and just see how those groups work and those subgroups work. I think for sure we got leggy and that’s why we end up using all six subs. We want to be a pressing team. I thought today, yeah, I don’t think we generated,especially that first period, how we wanted to, but good experience for me too. Obviously you have more days in between when you go to World Cup and you’re in qualifying, but to manage traveling and two days in bewteen and playing again, those are good experiences to learn from.”
With the US now headed to Orlando to play their third and final game of the tournament on another two days’ rest, we’ll see what lessons Ellis has drawn from this experience with France.
Yanks Abroad: Johannsson scores, Saief assists
It was a week of highs and lows for the Americans playing abroadBy Cody Bradley@ThatCodyTho Mar 6, 2018, 7:00am PSTSHARE
While we have plenty of highlights from goals and assists around the world, there were some very forgettable performances and Bobby Wood couldn’t even get on the roster in Germany.Let’s get to the highs & lows from the past week.
A-Jo is on fire right now. He’s come off the bench the last two matches for Werder Bremen and given them life. He was robbed of credit last week for a match winner at the death, but on
The Anderlecht man is playing very well at the moment and recorded another assist over the weekend in a 3-2 win over Zulte-Waregem. He’s got three assists & a goal in eight starts over 11 appearances this season.
Fulham have not lost in nine straight matches and picked up another HUGE win over Derby County to leapfrog them and move into 4th place. Ream has been the anchor of the backline and continuesto turn in solid numbers. He completed 37/39 passes, didn’t lose a single duel or aerial, and had nine clearances.
The 25 year old scored Sonnenhof’s loan goal in a 2-1 loss to Unterhaching down in the 3 Liga in Germany.
Yedlin and Newcastle were the unfortunate victims of 2nd place Liverpool over the weekend. He went all 90 minutes of the 2-0 loss and the Magpies are in 16th place, just two points clear of the relegation zone.
The 20 year old made his first appearance since January 21st on Saturday as he came on for the final 10 mintues of a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin.
Williams was on the field for all 90 minutes as Huddersfield Town were defeated by a final of 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspur.
The left-back went 90 minutes as Santos defeated Necaxa 2-1.
He went all 90 minutes at left-back for Bolton but it was a night to forget for the 20 year old Everton loanee. He completed just 42% of his passes and was lost possession a couple times.
Chandler and his Eintracht Frankfurt side picked up three points in a 1-0 win over Hannoverand have gone level with BvB at 42 points. Timmy didn’t have the best day as he completed only 48% of his passes, but he did contribute to the shutout.
He picked up a yellow card for Stoke in a 0-0 draw at Southampton on Saturday. He went all 90 minutes in a defensive midfield role.
Green has been stringing together decent performances for Gruether Fürth in the 2nd division in Germany. He’s finally become a regular starter and went 85 minutes in a 2-0 win over Nürnberg. Big win for his side as they beat the 2nd place team to stay out of the relegation zone.
Over in the Dutch league Miazga went 90 for Vitesse in a 3-2 win over 2nd place Ajax. Vitesse are in 6th place in the Eredivisie.
Pulisic was on the bench for most of Dortmund’s 1-1 draw with RB Leipzig. He came on for the last two minutes of regulation and only got 3 touches on the ball.
The 21 year old scored in the 2nd division in the Netherlands over the weekend. His 15 goals are good for 3rd in the league.
The youngster made his debut for PSG. Check out the Youth Update for more on him.
He got himself a shutout between the sticks for Leon in a 3-0 win over Pumas.
He had been relegated to a substitute fighting for garbage minutes, but failed to even be named to the roster for Hamburger SV’s 0-0 draw with Mainz 05.
The 36 year old made a 6 minute appearance for Leon. He now totals 22 minutes in 3 appearances since debuting for the Liga MX side a month ago.
Neymar-Less PSG Sets Out to Complete Champions League Comeback vs. Real Madrid
By 90MIN March 05, 2018
Real Madrid head to the Parc des Princes for their Champions League last-16 showdown with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday evening, knowing anything better or equal to a one-goal defeat will see them through to the quarter-final stages of the competition for the eighth consecutive season.A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo and a late volleyed effort via defender Marcelo canceled out Adrien Rabiot’s tidy opener, and placed Los Blancos one step closer to becoming the first side to defend the Champions League crown for three years running. Since their Santiago Bernabeu Stadium victory over PSG in mid-February, Zinedine Zidane’s men have tasted defeat just once – going down 1-0 to Espanyol just under a week ago – with maximum points claimed from Real Betis, Leganes, Alaves and Getafe all building confidence in their run up the European bout. Paris have also claimed four wins since that night in the Spanish capital; conceding just two goals in the process. However, they have lost vital frontman Neymar to long-term injury and are on the verge, once again, of underperforming on the grandest stage. So, ahead of the mouthwatering second leg, let’s take a look at all you need to know…
Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain (February 2018)
Although it was only three weeks ago, Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over PSG inside the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is one of distinct note – partly because the two sides had only met each other twice previously in competitive matches, with both underwhelming.
Rabiot was able to latch onto Kylian Mbappe’s cute cross into the area after the young French striker broke down the right wing to slide his effort past Keylor Navas and secure the visitors a much-needed away goal. The 22-year-old’s first-half strike could have been much more influential, however, had it not been for Giovani Lo Celso hauling down Toni Kroos in the area on the stroke of half-time and offering Ronaldo the chance to square things up going into the break. Despite looking comfortable on the ball, Unai Emery’s XI continued to struggle to create any clear-cut opportunities; with a dangerous cross into the area which just evaded Neymar’s outstretched leg the only sighting of note. And the French outfit’s lackluster attacking potency afforded the hosts to strike twice in quick secession following the introduction of Marco Asensio, with the young Spaniard drilling a cross into the area which was eventually turned home by Ronaldo, and also providing Marcelo the opportunity to lash home a late volley to give Zidane’s side a two-goal buffer heading into the return leg.
Mateo Kovacic vs Adrien Rabiot
Despite both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric returning to training in Madrid on Sunday, and the pairing part of the traveling contingent to Paris, Zidane may well think that fielding both could be too risky in such a high profile setting so quickly after returning. If so, the Frenchman may well opt for Asensio and Isco alongside Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic as a midfield four, meaning it will be the latter pairing’s job to keep their PSG counterparts quiet as they hunt for a way back into the contest. Kovacic has not played a great deal of football so far this term – completing 90 minutes on just four occasions – although his showings of late have been a significant improvement compared to those towards the back end of 2017. The Austrian-born Croatia international will, however, have his hands full when coming up against a nothing-to-lose Paris side. Modric’s lack of concentration for a split second in the first-leg evidence of how crucial his role could be on Tuesday evening, with Rabiot losing the ex-Tottenham Hotspur ace only momentarily before slotting home.
When coming up against strong opposition in the past, the midfielder has been on occasion left wanting; with his questionable display in Barcelona’s 3-0 win at the Bernabeu earlier in the season telling. But should Zidane be reliant on Kovacic on Tuesday evening, a contest in which Los Blancos’ season rests upon, the former Inter Milan man must be at the top of his game throughout.
Following the return to training of both Kroos and Modric – although the duo remain doubtful for Tuesday’s contest – defender Jesus Vallejo is the only unavailability within Zidane’s squad, with the 21-year-old still sidelined through injury. Dani Carvajal will get his first crack at PSG this year, after missing the first-leg through suspension.For the hosts, Neymar is the most significant exclusion after it was announced he would face surgery and a three-month wait to return, with it likely Angel Di Maria will take his place. Javier Pastore, meanwhile, is the only other player doubtful within Emery’s ranks, meaning Mbappe is set to start after missing his side’s 2-0 win over Troyes at the weekend. Both experienced midfielders Lassana Diarra and Thiago Motta are available after missing the opening tie through injury.
PSG saw much of the ball in Spain three weeks ago, and it would be expected for the same theme to occur again. Real Madrid prefer playing a more counter-attacking style of play, and with Les Parisiens the only one of the two with a need to score. It would not be a surprise to see the visitors create the odd chance here and there on the break, especially if they still hold an advantage in the latter stages. An early goal for either side completely changes the complexion of the contest, but Los Blancos’ experience in these types of situations, alongside the hosts’ lack of, should undoubtedly shine through.
Score Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 0-2 Real Madrid
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